Launch Show: Saturday 9 September 2017
Welcome back! A lot has happened since the last time were here: the USA somehow elected a maniacal Wotsit; Steve got married; I did the Crystal Maze (well, the experience - I think my competitive television show days are over) and we’ve said farewell to a bunch of Strictly pros: Oksana (isn't that right, Oksana?); Joanne (in the tradition of most female pros after winning the series) and, saddest of all, Natalie - whose enthusiasm, comedy winks and lovely lovely ballroom will be missed. Oh yeah, and Len went off to pickle his walnuts (oh dear what a shame) [and do some rhyming on primetime BBC1 to...mixed reviews. - Steve].
Tonight! The pros/celebrity couplings are unveiled! We get to meet new head judge Shirley Ballas! And the annual tradition of the car crash group dance!
But first, the annual opening VT of daftness. I can’t believe I’ve got to be recapping this thing again after I was lumbered with the fever-dream space nonsense last year. [Yeah, sorry about that. - Steve]
You know how usually these things go on an eternity but at least there’s a little bit of dancing involved? Not so this year. The as-ever-implausible narrative features Tess and Claudia as the administrators/receptionists of Strictly - I think I’d believe them as astronauts more than this, to be honest. [I do however feel happy for that one DS poster who can now feel validated by this proof that there is indeed a Strictly Department. - Steve] Because even this show is no longer safe from the Curse of the Hipster TM, they’re working with an old-fashioned switchboard and typewriter (but with glittery headphones), and they send through all of the pros (with a quick reminder that Anton is OLD and AJ is baby-faced) and judges, along with the fake tan and glitter delivery team. Then they realise they've forgotten to get changed and, as they are called to the red carpet, they do a quick Wonder Woman change in the revolving doors and, contemporary reference ticked, we’re on with the show.
I know this year’s series has received criticism for the rather underwhelming cast - and the red carpet event is doing nothing to downplay the feeling of running the whole thing on a shoestring as we don’t even get the celebrities arriving in cars bit - instead, a cardboard
Terry's Chocolate Orange Cinderella's Pumpkin glitter ball
opens to reveal a fast succession of hosts, judges, pros and celebrities, all
of whom arrive in the blink of an eye. Even more unfortunately, the first two
talking heads we get are two of the least famous members of the whole cast,
rent-a- GMTV GMB-er Charlotte Hawkins and Sunday Brunch host Simon Rimmer. They aren’t even BBC!
I actually don’t hate the make-up of this cast as much as others seem to, but I’ll admit that two-count-em people from Holby City, another Saturday and an anonymous ITV breakfast person aren’t the most inspired of choices on paper. [Agreed, I have nothing against any of the cast individually but I'm just not sure putting all 15 of them together for one series was necessarily the right call. But they do all seem very personable, so if they have the same group chemistry as last year's cast it might all be absolutely fine. - Steve] Still, let’s see how they come across in person, shall we?
Red carpet bantz? Chizzy Akudolu is fulfilling the feisty BBW trope; Joe McFadden and Jonnie Peacock are having sequin warz; Gemma Atkinson is relieved that finally, after years of slogging away on soap operas and multiple other reality shows, she’s been deemed recognisable enough for this one; Darcey and Shirley are not here for any tabloid rumours about catfighting this isn’t the X Factor circa 2007; Those super grateful to be here and liable to burst into tears at any given moment? Alexandra Burke (obviously) and Susan Calman (less obviously). Oh, and someone has let Anton sing again. And on my watch yet again ISN’T THE UNIVERSE A CRUEL ENOUGH PLACE AS IT IS?
There is a nice old Hollywood pro-dance incorporating foxtrot, charleston, American smooth, the men wearing fierce scarves (presumably in tribute to Natalie Lowe) [sniff - Steve] and a lot of fans. The celebrities chuck fistfuls of gold foil tokens at us, and we segue into the studio, where they are throwing fistfuls of silver foil instead. If you deduct the silver from the gold, will they have enough to win that special raft-building team away-day experience, or are they going to walk away with just a crystal each, hmmm?
The dance moves into a more generic-party-Latin oriented routine in which the Strictly singers and Dave arch is wonderful wonderful Orchestra perform 'Get Lucky' and the judges arrive again - Darcey descending on a hula hoop from the ceiling, Craig running around with silver maracas, Bruno dancing on a podium like he’s at Heaven, and Shirley turning up in a red Latin dress, having a boogie with all of the male pros. It’s great – and both mercifully shorter and better danced than the ‘showcase’ Darcey had when she started. [I absolutely loved Shirley arriving and pirouetting across the floor and making it clear that she is Not Here To Fuck About. - Steve] Overall, though, fun as it was, that whole opening segment was budget as fuck. I guess they’ll have to bring Darcey and Craig’s pay up to Bruno level now and savings are gonna have to be made somewhere. (Has there been a conspiracy theory going that this is why they hired a female head judge rather than a male yet?)
Brendan and Anton escort Tess and Claudia into the studio. Daly dress watch: black, with a slit up each leg-it’s a look. What Winkleman’s wearing: blue, very, very ruffly. They note that they’ll be a tribute to Bruce coming up later and Tess looks on the verge of tears. #blesstess
The judges make their third entrance of the evening, and Shirley has changed into a glamorous black ballgown. Tess welcomes Shirley and says she hopes the other judges have been making her feel welcome. Craig says 'we have indeed' and I prepare myself for the punchline… that never comes. I guess the cutting corners has even extended to laying off the bad joke writers. [Hooray! - Steve]
Now it’s time for the most important part of proceedings-discovering how these celebrities are going to be referred to (and what my voice software thinks they are called, in the old tradition of Starch Amelia). So, your class of 2017 comprises:
- ‘TV presenter’ in her own right and definitely not just the wife of someone famous Ruth Langsford (Bruce Longford)
- ‘EastEnders star’ Davood Ghadami (David Khatami)
- ‘pop star’ (still?) Mollie King (yes, Dragon got her spelling right so she must be properly famous– see also Jonnie)
- ‘star of stage and screen’ Brian Conley (Prior Connolly)
- ‘actress’ Chizzy Akudolu (Suzy du lieu)
- ‘Paralympic gold medallist’ Jonnie Peacock
- ‘entertainer and radio broadcaster’ - which I think is a step up from ‘magician’s assistant and celebrity spouse’ so well done that agent - Debbie McGee (WD)
- ‘singer’, and no longer a pop star like Mollie, Aston Merrygold (Constantly Called)
- ‘actress and radio presenter’ Gemma Atkinson - and if you are wondering where Gemma is a radio presenter and Debbie a radio broadcaster (and of the two, is one of those titles more high status than the other, I’m not quite sure?), Gemma’s part of the breakfast team for Key 107 and Debbie has a Sunday show on BBC Radio Berkshire. It has a regular gardening segment. So now we know.
- ‘vicar and broadcaster’ - and one-time member of the Communards which everybody else always mentions I can’t believe they didn’t mention it here - the Rev Richard Coles – who is wearing a dog collar. I’d be intrigued to know if he chose to wear the dog collar and get called reverend or if it was a choice made for him by the producers.
- ‘newsreader’- and please don’t mention I work with Piers Morgan ta - Charlotte Hawkins
- ‘from Holby City’ – as opposed to Chizzy being an all-round actor - Joe McFadden (Jo McFadden) [To be fair, I wonder if this is more to do with Joe currently being in Holby City, whereas Chizzy left a while ago. - Steve]
- 'comedian and presenter’ Susan Calman
- ‘presenter of Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch’ – Jesus Christ, Channel 4, first you take the Bake Off and fill it full of sponsors and lose the history bit and all the good presenters, now you manage to get your own product placement in here - Simon Rimmer
- ‘singer and theatre star’ Alexandra Burke.
Everyone apart from Simon (and Alexandra because she is the last one) makes a reasonable attempt at shimmying to the theme tune.
Claudia asks Bruno who, after a few seconds of dancing, he thinks is going to win. Bruno says he could tell you who is not going to win… and then doesn’t. Either that or he said something so scandalous that it was edited out before it made TV. The camera highlights Simon twice at this point as well as Gemma, so make of that what you will, I’m going to make of it that Simon will be first boot - although he probably would have been my prediction for first boot anyway as I’m not sure he’s going to have either the fan base or the talent.
Tess asks New Head Judge Shirley TM what it takes to earn her favour and Shirley says a great work ethic and determination, a love of each dance and… Creativity and thinking outside the box. Have you never watched the show before Shirley? That is when things like this happen (although also things like this, so…).
And so on to the business of the show via a gag about how Tess has been waiting for this moment since December last year. I bet she’s also one of those people who, when the new Doctor is announced, immediately start fifteen threads on Digital Spy speculating about their successor.
First we meet Gemma Atkinson a.k.a. Lisa Hunter from Hollyoaks, Tamsin from Casualty, someone from Emmerdale [Carly Hope, you're welcome - Steve] and a steady feature of reality television. She is playing the ‘I’m just an awkward, uncivilised northerner card’ most effectively seen deployed by Chelsee Healey.
Next up is The Lovely Miss Debbie McGee a.k.a. Ms Ringer von Ringerson from the Singing Ringing Tree aka an alumnus of the Royal Ballet School and the Rainier National Ballet, who has also worked as part of the dancing troupe and run her own dance school. She is also currently on Celebrity MasterChef so doing double duty on the BBC reality show circuit. [She's already been booted from that, though. I hope she's a better dancer than she is a cook. - Steve] Curiously her VT doesn’t mention how BALLET IS SO DIFFERENT FROM BALLROOM DANCING OMG, possibly because one of its very own judges is a former professional ballet dancer.
Chizzy Akudolu has a BIG PERSONALITY and big hair. She is basically Tameka Empson with the volume turned up - your tolerance for this may vary, but I quite like her so far [I would also dispute this because I think she's already far more likeable than Tameka ever was - Steve]. She is also really beautiful (amazing skin and eyes especially) and looks amazing for 43. Her mention of being able to do the splits could be a red flag, though.
Ruth Langsford, otherwise known as a woman so tolerant she should join a UN peace-keeping force -after all, if you can put up with Eamon Holmes… As if to labour this point she also mentions the fact that he thinks she is a rubbish dancer. What a catch.
Here we go with the pairings. Gemma (who is looking great tonight with her long curled hair and makeup-much more glamorous than any of the characters she usually plays) is paired with Aljaž who seems incredibly happy to have avoided a mature lady yet again - much to the chagrin of the nation’s mature ladies, I’m sure.
Debbie is paired with Giovanni, which is an interesting combination - and his first older lady. [I have honestly never wanted a showmance more. - Steve] Debbie pretends that she is starting 'from new' because she hasn’t danced 'for years'.
Chizzy and Craig engage in some mild flirting before she is paired with Pasha. She grabs him very tired and pulls him into her (sizeable) chest and then she growls ‘I’m gonna work you’ in the manner every inappropriate blogger has imagined greeting him. [Why did you look at me when you said that? - Steve] It’s a glorious moment.
Finally Ruth, who continues the vaguely sexually harassing vibe by declaring she fancies rubbing herself up against as many of the male dancers as possible. Mrrowww. Unfortunately for her (and possibly us), she is this year’s Anton. Strap yourselves in, everyone.
In the Clauditorium, we get a shout out to Ruth's relatives and a reminder that Anton is popular with people’s mums and nans. Claudia asks Chizzy who she wanted and she says 'Pasha… Well, he was one of three'. Atta girl. Debbie says she needs someone who is quite tough but with a sense of humour. Oh well, it's good for her that Giovanni has totally come across as both of those things in the past couple of years, isn't it? Claudia congratulates Aljaž on being paired with Gemma, whose mother has compared her to a baby elephant.
Now it’s time for a full introduction to New Head Judge Shirley TM. She has been dancing ballroom and Latin since she was seven years old, won the British Championships at 23 (rocking a Servalan from Blake’s 7 look) and she has won many other championships since then. Hey you guys, guess what she’s most looking forward to? That’s right, BLACKPOOL, where she retired in 1996. She says she will be fun, feisty, firm and fair, and is a real stickler for technique. She also has a nice smile, so that’s a good start right? She does have one habit that's starting to annoy me already though -holding her glasses in her hand and waving them around to make a point. She does this both in her VT and in the studio, as if it is her signature move. Can we focus group that away before the first show proper, please? Thanks. She will also be looking for footwork and arm work - holding out her arms to demonstrate, at which point Bruno kisses them all the way up to the armpit. Didn’t take him long to get going this series, did it? Tess says if Craig is a 10 for being a stickler, how much is Shirley? Shirley says 11. If that has meant the end of sev-uhn once and for all then I think we can all be very happy with our New Head Judge.
Back in the Clauditorium, Susan says there is one dancer in particular she loves more than her wife and if she gets him, there will be an explosion. She says she’s set the spare room up, ‘because they come and live with us, don’t they?’ Susan looks almost unrecognisable in her ballroom makeover-there’s something about the purple sequins and the hairstyle that bring Nina Wadia to mind, and why has Nina Wadia never done the show? She also has a touch of the Melissa McCarthy about her, which is not a diss, because I love me some Melissa McCarthy. Anyway, this 'Susan becomes a crazy batshit stalker' storyline is building in a way I hadn’t expected from our first fide lady gay celebrity, but we’ll go with it for now, as long as it doesn't last for more than, well, tonight, preferably.
Claudia says that Richard has been waiting 11 years for them to run out of celebrities more famous than him to ask to be on the show - guessing he wasn’t a fan of the two 2004 series then? [Or maybe he decided not to count series seven, who could blame him? - Steve] Claudia tells Johnnie (currently looking like a cross between Jay McGuiness and Thor) that everyone has fallen in love with him, and we cut to Mollie, nodding very sincerely with her big lady boner eyes, dropped jaw and tongue hanging out. The women on this series have clearly got something going on, haven’t they? We will be lucky to get through the whole run without some restraining orders being introduced.
It’s now time to meet the three new professional dancers - from Ukraine, Australia and… Wales. It worked a lot better when the punchline was Grimsby, you know. The first time. They are introduced to us via the medium of all the other professional dancers putting on a Fosse-esque show, whilst the three of them tit about backstage with perfume and make-up. Eventually they turn up, dangling from ceiling hankies, and lark about the back of the pack doing 'Single Ladies' for a bit. Showcase!
It’s only afterwards that Tess remembers to tell us the new pros are called Amy, Dianne and Nadiya, without bothering to let us know which one is which (Amy, brunette, Welsh; Dianne red-head, Aussie; Nadiya blonde, Ukrainian). I miss those VTs where you’d get two new pros boasting about their epic dancing achievements and the third one being all ‘I watched Burn the Floor once.’ Anyway, the internet tells me they’ve all won various championships and Dianne and Nadiya have form with international versions of the show. Hopefully at some point we’ll discover something about their personalities beyond nationality and hair colour, isn’t that right Oksana?
Time for a Claudia gag, anyone? Debbie McGee has been teaching her some magic, so she takes Tess’s watch to smash under a cloth… and hasn’t yet unlearned how to smash it.
Our first male celebrities now and ringering in the pack, JLS’s Aston Merrygold. He’s a few rungs down from Merry Christmas JLS, but I guess Merry Christmas doing the Christmas special was too perfect an idea to sully, so the eye candy one it is. [Merry Christmas JLS is doing Songs Of Praise now, the world is such a strange place. - Steve] Anyway, he dun some dancing and judged a dance show, but THAT IS NOTHING LIKE DANCING BALLROOM AND LATIN, K? These last 3 series have had casts that make Denise van Outen and Natalie Gumede look like genuine novices, haven’t they? Anyway – an early front-runner? Apart from the fact that he’s going to get Janette as a professional partner because of his height and she’s yet to better Jake Wood’s salsa in her choreography, and doesn’t seem to be the most popular with the public.
In the first of no doubt endless puns on the theme, Richard Coles is described as praying for tens. In full ecclesiastical garb he talks about how much he loves his parish church in Finedon, as well as doing all his broadcasting work and being a former member of the Communards and competing with Brian Cox for being the most famous former keyboard player in Britain. He also drops in a cheeky 'Lord of the Dance' pun, although I can’t see it being the last one of those. Anyone want to take any bets on whether or not he’ll be dancing to that primary school classic at any point? It’s the one tune I remember learning to play on the recorder (BAABBAGGG is etched on my brain over 30 years later).
The third man to be introduced is Davood Ghadami (pronounced Dah-vuhd, which is good to know, as in my head I’ve always been pronouncing it Davvood). He implores us all to watch EastEnders because he regularly takes his kit off. Just don’t pay any attention to the terrible storylines they’ve had over the past year or so. His on-screen mum is also yet-to-be-cast megaringer Bonnie Langford, and I feel that this year’s drinking games should involve a shot every time she turns up in the audience. [We're going to get so wasted. - Steve]
You know how there’s always one contestant on strictly that you really take against because they seem like a total douchebag? The classic example of this for me has to be Iwan Thomas - I started watching Celebrity Island and when I discovered he was on it spent the whole hour raging at my television apart from the glorious moment where his terrible alpha bravado was trashed by some sensible women (I haven't watched episode 2 for fear that victory may be short lived). [I watched it this week and couldn't escape the thought that the rest of the castmates could solve all their problems by just eating Iwan. - Steve] Anyway, I think Simon Rimmer is going to be that guy for me this year. He claims to have invented pulled pork, which is pretty much akin to claiming you invented chicken drumsticks, and he has a very punchable face and calls himself a BLOKE. Now I realise where all the shade-throwing editing earlier in the episode was coming from. Still, he’s not going to be here for long, is he? [Aww, I like Simon. But yeah, I'm not planning on getting too attached. - Steve]
Tess asks Aston which judge he wants to most impress. Aston says he can’t say because they're all looking at him and Craig is giving him evils. BuzzFeed-reading Tess says Craig just has resting bitch face, don’t worry about it, but Aston decides is going to be diplomatic and say he wants to impress all of them. Unsurprisingly, he is paired with Janette, now the second longest serving female pro think on that. She seems very happy with this turn of events, anyway. Tess calls them adorable and I suspect this is not the last time we will hear them described in such a manner - still, AJ is probably pleased the patronisation is off him, for a change.
Tess tells Richard he’s the first vicar they’ve had on the show and asks if he’s had to ask his boss upstairs for permission. Richard says God loves a dancer and is very forgiving. He is paired with Dianne as the alleluia chorus plays. She spins across to him with a face that says I am accepting my fate of being this year’s kook along with this bright red hair. In the audience, we cut to fellow celebrity vicar, Kate-from-Gogglebox-and-now-also-Celebrity-MasterChef-and-apparently-Songs-of-Praise-sometimes. Anyone want to take bets on whether or not Justin Welby is gonna show up at some point during the series?
Tess gets in a good grope of Davood’s gunz before pairing him with Nadiya. And Simon… is paired with #prayforkaren. We’re reminded of the long-running It Takes Two meme that Karen Clifton likes food. Probably not as much as she would like to be paired with somebody who isn’t going to be an early boot, but such is the fate of the long-standing female pro dancer (and the Anton).
In the Clauditorium, Richard says Russell Grant is his dancing inspiration (?!) because he lost a lot of weight doing Strictly. Dianne says she feels truly blessed. Claudia says there’ll be more of that. Yes, we’re pretty sure the scriptwriters have got at least 50 pre-prepared puns already lined up to go. And reuse over and over because they couldn't think of any more than that. Davood is happy with his partner and Aston is definitely not a ringer, honest, but he is about to be a dad. FIRST SHOTS FIRED IN BABY WARZ 2017!!
Over to the judges now for our first official reminder that 'dancing is DIFFICULT FOR MEN.' Thanks Darcey and Tess!
And because what the show really needs is extra filler, we have not one, but two special guest performances. First we have Shania Twain, looking almost unrecognisable - in a good way, she looks cracking - singing her new, boring, song that consists only of the line ‘your life’s about to get good’, surrounded by the male pros in grey suits (with crowd-pleasingly tight trousers) and T-shirts doing their best pop video moves. Aljaž is giving Shania the old sexy eyes in particular. See, the guy is crying out for an older woman!
Our next Claudia gag sees her bringing out some breakfast items and saying that the toaster has broken, the milk is off etc - the punchline? She thought Charlotte would want to know in order to deliver the breakfast news badumtish.
And now it’s time for our annual ‘let’s see how badly the winners have lost the ability to dance over the past year, shall we?’ slot. Joanne has developed some kind of bad perm, which I hope is for a role, or else just an over-enthusiastic application of mousse and curling wands. Ore says dance will forever be in his life, although let’s see how this plays out in practice, shall we?
They’ve chosen to reprise their jive, one of their better loved routines from the last series - although I am still a bit sick of jives being the best thing ever. Let’s have some love for a different dance this series, eh? In terms of how they acquit themselves - it’s certainly better than Caroline Flack’s return a couple of years ago, but not quite as good as Jay’s last year. [Oh god, don't restart the Ore vs Jay jive wars, it was bad enough the first time! - Steve] The routine remains energetic and fun, although there are places where their technique drops and it’s quite noticeable that they haven’t been dancing together for quite some time. Nice to see them both, though.
Ore thanks the audience for voting them the winners and says it’s been a life-changing year. Tess tells us this is last time, ever, ever ever that Joanne will ever appear in the Strictly studio, they’re not even going to allow her in as a member of the audience now she is dead to them. Joanne’s all ‘steady on love, if musical theatre doesn’t work out for me and I need some extra cash, I still want to keep my options open.’ I like Joanne, but it’s difficult to see what she could possibly bring to proceedings if she returned as a regular pro, given she has won, has partnered a comedy contestant and (legitimately, unlike a certain pairing from last year) won the Christmas special - all that’s left is mid-table mediocrity or a lifetime of terrible middle-aged men like her poor old sister-in-law. However, if she were to return as a judge or commentator, I’d be okay with that, having enjoyed her work in khoreography korner. As long as she shared it with Chloe.
Ore tells this year’s contestants to enjoy it and learn from their celebrity partners as Chizzy hangs on to his every word like he’s Yoda or something.
And now we come to the evening’s tribute to Bruce. We may not have always been the biggest fans of how he presented this show - particularly in his later series, when it was clear the live TV aspect was running away from him - but there’s no denying how crucial he was to making this show a success in its early days. And as an entertainer and TV presenter, his career and legacy have been pretty phenomenal, so RIP Bruce. We’ll always have that time you tried to rush McFly off the stage.
The tribute itself is lovely. We get a combination of: talking heads from the members of the team - my favourite being a backhanded compliment from Darcey that the timing of his jokes was unique; clips of Bruce on Strictly, including from series 1 where we learn that wardrobe have never liked Tess, and that highlights and spikes are not a look Craig should ever revisit; reminders of his singing, which we were never that keen on, but would take over Anton’s any day; and a beautifully done dance tribute involving a foxtrot to ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. Tess tells his wife and family everyone is thinking of them, breaking down in tears as she does so and failing to regain her composure. Awwww.
Wake up time for our remaining female contestants. Charlotte Hawkins tells us that she is from the world of ITV’s breakfast programming and many of her colleagues have done the show before. She says that when she gets dressed up and in the sequins everyone will be like, ‘who is this person?’ - which I think at least show some awareness of her public reception, right? Also, she gets up early in the morning and she has a little girl WHO IS ACTUALLY OUT OF THE WOMB ASTON IT IS ON.
Mollie is one of three - count 'em - former X Factor types on the show, and was also one of The Saturdays who weren’t very good, were they, really? [YOU HUSH YOUR MOUTH. - Steve] I’ll allow them ‘Up’. Susan Calman now, a rare comedian (although she is also a TV and radio presenter, which makes for more traditional Strictly fodder), and an even rarer lesbian contestant (hurray, it only took until series 15). Her mum now believe she’s a celebrity because she got asked to do this show. She says she hasn’t worn a dress or heels since she was 17, but she seems very excited about all.
And now we have ALEXANDRA BURKE DOT COM. If the finale of this show isn’t Aston vs Alexandra involving special guests Merry Christmas and Beyonce, I am asking for my licence fee back. Also, I can’t work out if having three X Factor graduates (including, two of the alumni from its most popular era) is scraping the barrel or openly trolling the ITV show. Alexandra is in musicals these days, but is also not a ringer. She has retained her very special Alexandra personality - if anything, it's even more amped than before. I’m also hoping that this is a sign that next year we will finally get LA PRENJ competing, preferably stomping all over a projection of Cameron Mackintosh’s face. Or, even better, his actual face.
Tess reminds us that Charlotte gets up early in the morning, because truly there is nothing else about her that is interesting. There’s not even a surprise as to who her professional partner will be, because she’s a tall, white woman in the middle of the age range and therefore she is as Brendan as it gets. Neither of them is remotely surprised by this turn of events. The only question is, can Brendan phone his performance in any more than he did last year? With this pairing, I am suspecting he will find a way.
Mollie has a bad case of MAH NERVES and if it wasn’t endearing in Clancy it’s not going to be endearing in you. She is paired with AJ, a pairing about which I do not have any particularly strong feelings, other than it’s perhaps a surprise he didn’t get Susan because he is so short and she is absolutely tiny. That leaves Gorka and Kevin to dance with Susan and Alexandra, who cling to each other out of delight. We learn that Susan is a super fan of one of the remaining two dancers. She is then partnered with Kevin and reveals he is the pro that she has weird stalker-like tendencies towards. Susan blubs and says ‘I’m sorry, I’m doing an Ore’. Kevin says ‘it’s OK, he won, keep going’. Susan reveals she’s dreamed of doing this show and dancing with Kevin for years. I mean, bless Kevin and everything, and he’s a nice-looking guy, but he isn’t the first name that comes to mind when you think of Strictly pros people might be obsessed with. [Again, why did you look at me when you said that? - Steve] Still, this is presumably going to be a change from 'Kevin and mega ringer of the year coast their way to the final AND BLOW IT AT THE LAST HURDLE'.
That leaves Alexandra and Gorka as our final female celebrity-male pro pairing. Apparently the rumba is Alexandra’s favourite dance. Tess is as incredulous about this as the viewing audience.
Up in the Clauditorium, we learn that Alexandra wants to be worked into the ground by Gorka. [You and me both hon. - Steve] What did I say about the female cast this year? We also learn that Kevin is going to have to move in with Susan, her wife and their five cats; Mollie might have been in a girl band but she is definitely not a ringer and Charlotte is smiley. Over with the judges and Craig says he’s got his eye on Mollie because he was partial to the twerking she did on the red carpet. Seriously, have they sprayed this whole place with pheromones?
The next special guest performance of the night is Rita Ora surrounded by red lighting and wearing red trousers, in another nod to the X Factor. Fun fact! When I first watched this episode, I fast forwarded all the filler to watch the pair reveals and thought this was Louisa Johnson. Her song is not very good, nor is the vocal, and she doesn’t even have pro dancers with her, so let’s say no more about it.
We are coming into the home stretch, finally – a relief for me, because this recap has taken several days with it being September and both the start of the new academic year and the final week of rehearsals for a play I’m in (if you’re in Sheffield, come along and see me!). And also because this show has been far longer than it had any need to be.
Time for our annual VT of the celebrities and pros meeting for the first time and rehearsing the car crash group dance. They have set the venue up as a boot camp, with the celebrities hidden behind camouflage. They then pull the camouflage net down to reveal the underwhelmed faces of the pros at this cast. From what you can tell from the training footage, Simon is terrible, Ruth has some surprising moves, Neil and Chizzy seem to be getting along well (and let’s just take a moment to say poor Neil and poor Chloe, left on the sidelines yet again). Also, Chizzy’s wearing a bright red top to the training, making herself stand out from the crowd - smart woman. Aston thinks it’s a good idea to dance in a silly hat with a feather on it. Shakes head. Jonnie points out the on-the-nose choice of his first dance on the show being ‘Footloose.’
Our final male contestants now. Completing our Holbyverse trio is Joe McFadden, who claims he is most looking forward to doing Latin, especially cha-cha. Given that nobody looks forward to the cha-cha, I can only assume he is expecting to be such an early boot that that’s the only Latin he’ll actually get the opportunity to dance.
Our lone sporting hero of the series is Jonnie Peacock, and we're reminded he’s won gold medals at both the Paralympics and World Championships. He says he doesn’t want to be with a partner who wants to win too much, because he’s worried he will drag them down. Come on Jonnie, that’s not the narrative of OLYMPIC HEROES on the show as you well know. Also not the narrative of the partner you’ve been paired up with, spoiler alert.
The final celebrity is somebody that you might have thought had been on the show back in the early days, but surprisingly hasn’t, Brian Conley. He is also somebody I’ve generally managed to avoid, so whilst I know who he is, I’m not familiar with much of his work, other than I’ve always assumed he would be a bit annoying and this VT isn’t changing my mind on that. I still prefer him to Simon though.
Joe is paired with Katya and I can’t see this being a pairing that hits the heights, both being in the mid to low range of recognisability among the cast and likely to be neither a comedy pairing nor contenders. Jonnie is paired with Oti - who is clearly wondering whether he is going to be an asset like Danny or a liability like Anthony, but still seems pleased that she has him over Brian, as you would be. Brian, therefore, is paired with new pro Amy to complete our lineup. Tess says he’s an all-round entertainer and asks him if that includes dancing. He says ‘not really’, which we all know is code for DIRTY RINGER.
In the Clauditorium, we learn that Amy is the current British Champion, although we don’t learn at what, so it could just be cheese rolling or caber tossing. Jonnie tells Claudia he will be happy with getting anywhere between week four and six and Claudia says LOL you’re with Oti, think again. Joe is reminded that the last person from Holby City, Tom Chambers, won the show. Joe says yes, but that was ages ago, before they packed the casts full of ringers. And also everyone hates Tom Chambers so he'd rather not have that comparison (he may have just said this last bit in his mind, but I could tell).
Tess asks Bruno who he is looking forward to seeing - Bruno completely avoids giving an answer by saying there could be a lot of entertainment. Craig gives them the advice to not mess it up (in the style of a dubbed-over-for-before-the-watershed Ru Paul... 'Don't... mess it up') in the car crash group dance. That’s the whole point of the routine, Craig. Indeed, Claudia alludes to this by telling the audience to ready the brace position.
The ‘Footloose’ routine is very, very loosely (hoho) jive-oriented. It’s hard to tell as so much of it is done in wide shot, but the celebrities dance about as well as you would probably expect them to - the three X Factor stars look the best, Richard is clearly lined up to be the main comedy contestant, Chizzy is making up for what she might not have in skill by force of personality. Simon looks quite lumpen, Susan looks quite nervous and the others are all somewhere in between.
So that is your cast of 2017 - a vicar, a couple of comedians, a magician’s assistant, a solitary SPORTSMAN, a smattering of actors, presenters and pop stars, a bargain basement GMTV type and possibly the least likeable celebrity chef to appear on the show since Gary Rhodes. But will any of our first impressions prove correct when they actually start dancing properly? You’ll have to join Steve in a couple of weeks’ time to find out!